What Other Video Game Makers Should Copy From Telltale Games

Well, some of them, anyway.

I just finished playing the second episode of “Minecraft: Story Mode.”

That probably doesn’t sound like a remarkable sentence. “Minecraft” is a global phenomenon, and “Story Mode” is likely printing money for Microsoft, Mojang and Telltale Games right now.

But this is significant for me. Despite growing up a gamer and following the gaming world, including as a writer for AllThingsD and then Re/code for a time, I rarely make time to sit down and play current games. There are exceptions (“Super Mario Maker” cost me several weekends) but by and large I devote my on-and-off game-playing time to four general categories:

  1. Older games I can stop playing for a while and then immediately get back into (e.g. vanilla “Minecraft”).
  2. Short games I can start and finish in one sitting (e.g. “Portal” and “The Stanley Parable,” both of which I’ve played through several times).
  3. Mind-busying games that I can play with the sound off while doing something else, mostly listening to podcasts (e.g. “Super Meat Boy” and “Race the Sun”).
  4. “Hearthstone.”

I very, very rarely pre-order new games before launch; partly, this is because pre-ordering is irrational behavior that only hurts consumers. But if I’m being honest with myself, it’s also because I am intimidated by modern video games.

Here’s a fun drinking game to play at E3: Take a shot every time you hear a company advertise a game with a word that means really big: Epic, huge, massive, etc. Disclaimer, side effects of this drinking game may include death by alcohol poisoning.

Massive alcohol poisoning.

Games becoming bigger sounds like a good thing if you already consider yourself a gamer; when video games are already a significant part of your diet, more content packed into every title means more value for your money. But for more casual players, as well as the people who simply can’t make time to care about games as much, it’s all too easy to just say, “Why bother?”

Dragon Age: Inquisition, according to HowLongtoBeat.com

I’ve been told by people whose taste I trust that I’d like “Metal Gear Solid V,” “Dragon Age: Inquisition” and “Borderlands 2.” But beating those games’ stories takes 30–40 hours minimum. As an adult with a job and, sometimes, a social life, buying those games at launch felt like a $60 chore to me.

And sure, you can wait for the price of one of these epic, huge, massive games to fall. But at that point, you will have missed the cultural conversation, and there will be 200 even newer games competing for your attention.

Which brings us back to Telltale titles such as “Minecraft: Story Mode.” For the uninitiated, Telltale releases its games in spaced-out episodes, which you can buy either individually or as a combined “season.”

I’m enjoying it, albeit not loving “Minecraft: Story Mode,” the second episode of which came out last week. But I am playing it, keeping current with it, and am eager and willing to talk about it, which is a personal achievement. All it takes to click the “buy” button and pony up $5 is to think, “this will probably be be a fun, self-contained 45–90 minute session.”

This model wouldn’t work for several types of video games. You wouldn’t want to load up “Madden” or “Call of Duty” to find yourself unable to just hop into a game with your friends because you haven’t all bought the same episodes. And some open world games, such as “Grand Theft Auto V,” simply deserve to be admired as complete works; even if you don’t finish all of the story, Los Santos is a gloriously complex environment that would feel less impressive if parts of it were ever inaccessible.

Most games are not “Grand Theft Auto V,” though. If I’m sitting down for a new story-driven game, not listening to a podcast and giving it all of my focus, I would love to not feel like I’m embarking on a futile mission. I want to feel like I’m experiencing something that won’t eat up my whole life — and if having it doled out to me chunk by chunk is the way to get that feeling, then sign me up.